Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Conflicting Information in Children's Publishing

I wrote my first children's picture book text and joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 9 years ago. I had a lot to learn! My illustration skills were not there yet, I needed to practice both illustrating and writing, and learn about how children's books work. But now, 9 years later I'm still unpublished and so I'm finally planning to self-publish my first book. I'm aware that there are things I could do better to attract an agent or editor. I'm both really good at following advice and really bad at it. But also, there are no rules! Everything you read about how to get ahead in children's publishing is advice, not clear-cut rules. We all have to make our way in this process leaning on our strengths while trying to improve our weaknesses.
Publishing has changed A LOT in the last 9 years. Things that were standard aren't so much now. Printing technology, ebooks, sharing online, and crowd funding have changed the way we can get our work seen and distributed to the people who want to see it. My own learning process through these changing technologies and traditions has led to puzzling over some seriously conflicting information. These are things that really bug me. I try to be a good girl! I try to follow wise advice, be smart, not waste my time or anyone else's.... but even if you are trying to do it right, there are a million different ways to do it right or do it wrong. The only way to get it done is to forge ahead finding your own path one step at a time.

Below are three points that really tripped me up. I spent plenty of time puzzling over them. I'd like to mention them here and then move on from worrying about them anymore. And by the way, I have my own advice for you. You can't take everyone's advice! Listen and try it out if it's coming from someone who knows you and your work AND is also in the children's publishing world- either as an author, illustrator, or publishing professional. Many well meaning people will give you quick advice without really knowing your work or background... just smile and nod. :)

Hand Lettering vs Fonts Only: 

Early on I heard that you should never hand letter any of the text. Publishers don't like it because then they can't translate it into foreign languages. Well, if you are reading this, then you are probably not sufficiently famous enough to have that problem.

But what about Melissa Sweet? She hand letters a lot and uses collaged text and is super famous (in children's publishing). Melissa Sweet is one of my heroes! There are so many great children's books by other artists that include hand lettering. Share your favorites with me in the comments so I can check them out.

And then there's Lilla Rogers who is a very well-know agent for illustrators. She teaches popular online classes that strongly encourage hand lettering. Her influence is so huge, I couldn't even figure our which image to use. But browse through her website, blog, and Make Art That Sells site to see some lovely lettering from her artists.

And then this happened- A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. What a fantastic book! But not only does it have hand lettering, it has type used as artwork. You can read a good article about it here.

According to the article, their editor Deirdre McDermott of Walker Books, said, ‘Congratulations, boys, you’ve made the most difficult-to-reproduce and hard-to-translate book in history.’ But it HAS been translated into many languages. And not just the text and the stories making up the typographic landscapes were translated, but editors have actually picked new favorite literature in each language to make up the type landscapes.

So-- my unprofessional advice to you regarding Hand Lettering vs Fonts is... If you are comfortable hand lettering, do it!

Lots of Movement and Extreme Point of View vs Calm and Quiet:

As an artist you always hear that your illustrations need to vary points of view and have lots of depth and movement. I think books with variety from page to page are interesting. But I honestly don't like the extreme points of view, like if you were an ant looking up at a person. To me, those pages feel like tricks that the illustrator is pulling off instead of an image that is doing service to the story. 

Depth is good along with contrast because it helps guide your eye through the page. But I've decided not to feel too down on myself because I'm not very good at creating depth, I've always liked flat images! 

I remember the first time I pulled Joseph Had a Little Overcoat from the bin at the library. Yes! I loved it so much! And I checked out every book that Simms Taback illustrated. And you notice the shiny circle on the cover? Other people loved these fun, flat, colorful illustrations too. 

About movement, you can't have life without movement, so it's a good thing. But I feel extreme movement and energy are often held up as the shining example that me must all try to achieve. But those books just wear me out. They are great for some people but not everyone. I've decided those high energy, extreme point of view books are extroverts. And us introverts need calmer, introverted books. Below are some gorgeous spreads from some of my favorite illustrators. Don't they make you feel wonderful?

My unprofessional advice to you about doing Lots of Movement and Extreme Point of View vs Calm and Quiet is of course, do whatever suits you best! But especially, if you like flat, quiet, beautiful illustrations, don't feel that you are less than those people who can draw perfect perspective and lots of movement. We need introverted books too!

Write What You Know vs Don't Write About Your Kids/Grandkids/Pets

'Write what you know' is general writer advice that you hear a lot. And 'don't write about your
grandchildren or your dog' is advice you'll hear a lot from editors in children's publishing. Well, what do you know better than your family, right? I think "don't write about your grandchildren or your dog' is misleading. You can write about them if the writing and illustrating is professional and interesting. Or more likely, you can be inspired by them and turn that into a story that was influenced by them. And I'd like to add that almost any creator in children's books that has children or grandchildren or pets will admit to being inspired by them.

This is a linocut inspired by my daughter meeting a real life (parade float) dragon!

I don't think you need to be tied to what you know, though. Children's books are a fantastic place for imagination. And they are a wonderful way to explore new things, people, history, or situations (after doing research). There is a big movement encouraging diversity in children's books AND in children's book creators. That is very overdue. Not only do we need children of color to see themselves, but all children need to see other cultures and faces represented in their books. I agree that books about a certain culture should be created by people from that world whenever possible. But that should not keep authors, illustrators, or young readers from following their curiosity where it leads. 

Sometimes you start by writing what you know and it takes you to magical places. And sometimes you are creating an imaginary story, but at it's core is an emotion or idea that is very close to your experiences. My unprofessional advice regarding Write What You Know vs Don't Write About Your Kids/Grandkids/Pets is, toss this whole problem out the window and just write well. Write and rewrite, and get feedback, and write more. The End.

I actually have eight more line items on my list of conflicting advice from the children's publishing world, but that seems like more than enough for now. If you are holding your breath wishing I'd write more of these sarcastic lightly-veiled frustrations with following advice, let me know and I'll do more. Haha! Happy writing and arting to you all!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New Things!

I made some changes on my website that I want to share.

If you scroll to the bottom of my shop, you can now buy different sets of cards! And when I get a chance to order more from the printer, I'll add another set with Magic is Everywhere and the cards in that style.

I also added a new page, Sketchbook. It's a combination of favorites from 100 Animals, 100 Trees and other sketchbook pages. The full 100 series are still out there, but there isn't a menu option from my website because there were just too many pages cluttering the place. I think it looks pretty good!

And the most exciting news is that I made a new blog on my website all about creating my picture book, Our Home. I'm planning to self publish so I'm taking advantage of not needing to keep anything secret and sharing the whole process. Please stop over and sign up for email updates! I will keep up the inconsistent posts here on Art on the Page, but most of the book related art and info will be over there.

I'm pretty excited to show off the most recent completed linocut for Our Home. This is the first full spread after the half title page. I'm planning to squeeze all of the publishing fine print in the top left corner.  There are lots of process photos on Instagram and I'll include lots on the new blog also!